I first saw Billy Hepfinger in Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of Sound of Music. He was a pure scene stealer and had the biggest laughs of the night. Amazing when his character was one stage for about twenty minutes total. I adored this guy and when I found out he’d be in the CLO’s production of Side by Side by Sondheim, I nearly fell out of my chair! I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed watching him perform.
Okay, let’s get the obvious question out of the way first….why are you so awesome?
If I am awesome (and personally I think that’s a pretty tough sell), it’s only because I’ve surrounded myself with awesome people. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and such.
Okay, another obvious question: you’re acting in Side by Side by Sondheim at CLO Cabaret. Favorite Sondheim song?
Impossible to pick just one. I’ve got to go with “Finishing the Hat” (from Sunday in the Park with George)…but ask me five times in a week and you’ll get five different answers.
You just finished Sound of Music with PMT, and now you’re diving into Side by Side. That’s a bit of a different role! How has it been so far?
It’s been a blast. The entire creative team is so focused on making this a really stellar show and doing the source material justice. I’m a huge Sondheim nerd (which my previous answer may have given away), so the prospect of spending my summer singing these songs on stage every night is such an honor and a privilege. And this show in particular is kind of fascinating – in some ways it’s a really good introduction to Sondheim if you know nothing about his work, but I think you get even more out of it if you’re a bit of a student of his. The show strikes a nice balance between some of the better-known songs of his (“Send in the Clowns”, “Being Alive”) and some stuff you won’t have heard of unless you’ve really dug deep.
The CLO is known for producing great, high quality musical theater. How has it been working with such a class act organization?
I grew up in Pittsburgh seeing shows at the CLO, so every time I work with them it feels like a bit of a childhood dream come true. And my first professional gig was playing a young George Washington in one of the CLO’s Gallery of Heroes tours, going around to schools in the area and performing for kids, so I feel very fortunate to have this kind of relationship with everybody here. I’m very excited to make my Cabaret debut – it’s such a cool space, and all my friends who’ve worked there keep telling me what a fun time it is.
Let’s switch gears a second. Like I said before, I saw you in PMT’s Sound of Music and you were hysterical! You stole every scene. Is the saying true: dying is easy, comedy is hard? because you made it look sooooo easy! And fun!
Thanks so much! I think – and I’m totally talking out of my ass here, because I’m 25 and I have no right to comment on the nature of comedy – I think comedy is hard and easy at the same time. Some of the best comedy comes from truly spontaneous moments, which are impossible to catch in a bottle, but a lot of it comes from watching great comedians at work – like I said, standing on the shoulders of giants. As a kid I started out doing impressions; Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, things like that. Just trying to entertain my family and friends. So I think in The Sound of Music you saw a little bit of both: moments of genuine inspiration, and things that were just blatantly stolen from very funny people.
Tell me a bit about how you became an actor. Did you sort of just fall into it? Was it a lifelong dream?
A little of both, I guess. I always had an idea that this was what I wanted to do, but it didn’t really click as a career thing until college, when I did some summer stock and got a little more serious about acting as a craft and as a discipline. I got into acting because I loved to entertain people, but I’ve stuck with acting because I get a lot out of the entire process of disappearing into a character.
What’s next for you?
Good question! Side by Side by Sondheim runs through August, so I haven’t made any concrete plans yet. But there are some really exciting shows coming up in the fall that I’d love to be a part of…keep your fingers crossed.
Finally, advice time. I can’t ever end an interview without asking. What the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that has helped you with your success?
Well, one piece of advice has floated in and out of my mind a lot over the past year or so. I was going into an audition for something here in town, and I mentioned to my good friend Jonathan Visser that I was really excited by the prospect of working for the company. And he stopped me and said, “You’re never working FOR anyone. You’re working WITH them.” It’s really helped keep things in perspective; theater is a collaboration that involves a lot of different people, and even if you’re low man on the totem pole, your contributions are just as valid as anyone else’s. I make a point of learning as much as I can from everyone I work with, but I also try to keep in mind that my choices and ideas are worthwhile.